Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

Case Study

Notes from Working with Potential Tradeshow Exhibit Clients

Not every company where there’s a sales conversation turns into a tradeshow exhibit client. In fact, it’s probably a fairly low percentage. However, each encounter has its own distinct flavor and outcome. And of course, learning experience.

No matter what company you’re trying to sell to, it’s impossible to be a fit for everyone. In fact, that’s what I tell prospects: “Let’s talk about what you are hoping to do to see if we’re a fit.” That way, the pressure is taken off. So many buyers are uncomfortable with reaching out to tradeshow companies or any company where the purchase is fairly large and time-consuming because of the pressure they think will come to them.

Let’s examine some of the interactions more closely and find some takeaways:

Example One:

I reconnected with a company that was familiar with while attending a tradeshow and started chatting. We knew each other from a previous design request in past years, and although we didn’t get the business then, they were ready to upgrade. This time it was for a larger exhibit, and even though they were comfortable working with their current provider they felt it was worth talking to a few others. Since we had a connection and had previously shown them our design work, we were asked to respond.

Respond we did. A budget range was set, an exhibit was designed based on their stated functional objectives and submitted prior to their deadline. The final pricing was presented in a range depending on options (type of graphics, backlit panels, custom vs. catalog counters, etc.). And while the overall price range started in their proposed budget range, it did run above that figure once all the options were chosen.

Towards the end of their decision date, we were politely told that their current vendor had won the business. Why? They had essentially the same design, but a significantly lower price.

Takeaway: Price speaks loudly. It’s easy to look at this from a number of angles. Price speaks loudly, often more loudly than the overall design and, the quality of workmanship and materials. Without knowing exactly what the current vendor is proposing, it’s impossible to know what materials would be used, what the design is, or how it’s built. But it’s not hard to take a look the next time it’s set up at a show.

Example Two:

This company was also a company I met at a tradeshow, and once they found out what I did, they expressed interest in upgrading to a new exhibit (this business usually has a long sales cycle, especially for new custom builds!). The conversation, which picked up and died down off and on for nearly eight months, finally led to a decision to proceed with us. That’s when the fun started!

I like it when clients ask question. The more the merrier. That wasn’t always the way, though. I had to learn that questions from clients (and prospects) are good. This client asked more questions than any other I’ve had before or since. Details, details, details! More questions about details than any other I’ve had. And frankly, they were asking questions about elements of products that I was unfamiliar with, so that lead to a lot of back and forth with producers, subcontractors and other vendors. At one point, they apologized for asking so many questions, but frankly, I didn’t mind. Not only did they get the exhibit they really wanted, they learned a lot along the way. As did I! You can’t ask too many questions about something you’re buying, especially when tens of thousands of dollars are involved.

Takeaway: Questions are good. You can never ask too many questions. It demonstrates interest and engagement.

Example Three:

Hands-Off Client. Some clients see the big picture and don’t get bogged down in details, except the ones that are important to them. Here’s an example of a company that we met with a few years ago, pitched them on a project that included a design for a 10×20 that met their budget. We were told they were also reviewing at least one other exhibit house, but the design struck gold and we ended up with the business. Since then, they’ve been very active in upgrading and expanding, but when it comes to the back and forth in creating new designs, there are very few questions, unlike our previous example. Typically, they’ll have their ducks lined up with 2D design concepts and proposed changes and are ready to move forward. As long as they have graphic dimensions, design details are left up to us. They chime in with comments suggesting modest changes, but otherwise it’s more of a “30,000-foot level” approach. Nothing wrong with this approach, just as there is nothing wrong with asking countless questions. As long as it works for the client, it works for us.

Takeaway: Trust. When a client that knows your work is at that level of engagement and stays mostly hands-off, it shows there is a great deal of trust involved.

Example Four:

We were contacted by a company that ran across our company website and asked if we were interested in responding to an RFP for a 30×30 custom booth at a tech show the following year. While there are pros and cons to responding to RFPs, we decided to proceed. The communication with this potential client was almost clinical, and I felt as if we were a million miles away. It was hard to get specific answers to questions. Everything was going to a committee at the end anyway. But we submitted a design and price that fit their price range to a T. As indicated in their decision process, the top three qualifiers would be required to present either at the company’s HQ in the Bay Area or via the web. Given the contact’s lack of genuine engagement during our design process and creating the RFP where we peppered them with questions regarding various aspects of the RFP, it was no surprise that we didn’t make the final cut. I still wonder why they were so interested in having us submit.

Takeaway: Trust your gut. From the beginning, this felt like we were a third wheel. The company probably needed to have a certain amount of RFP responses, most likely arbitrary, which lead to at least one or more exhibit providers submitting responses without a ghost’s chance of actually getting the work. But that’s the way the business world often works.

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Why Tradeshow Marketing Spreads Ideas

We all wish we had that idea that spread like wildfire. Hotmail, or Napster, for instance. But with so many millions of ideas floating to the surface of people’s minds on a daily basis, how do you get something to spread?

Tradeshows, surprisingly (or maybe not surprisingly), are naturally built to spread ideas. There are lots of mediums that can spread ideas: books, podcasts, radio shows, TV shows, online video, email, and so on. But tradeshow marketing has a few advantages (and a few disadvantages, which we’ll look at shortly).

The big advantage of using the medium of tradeshows to spread an idea, whether it’s a product or service that you’re marketing, is that you have a gathering of people that are specifically interested in your products. Or at least they’re specifically interested in the market in which your product sits. Another advantage is that the attendees usually have a lot of influence in the company they work for and the market that they work in. Which means if they see an idea they like a lot, one that resonates with them or helps them out, they’ll talk about it. They’ll spread the idea to others that can also spread it, or act on the product or service represented by the idea.

What about the disadvantages? Even though the attendees at the show have a lot of influence, it’s somewhat of a closed system. If you want the idea to spread outside of the market that the tradeshow addresses, you’ll need to go beyond. Having said that, perhaps that’s not even important.

Another disadvantage that tradeshow have as far as spreading ideas is that it’s largely a marketing effort, not an effort to spread an idea. But it can be done. I think back to 2009 when I attended Outdoor Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City. In promoting his new cameras, several times a day GoPro CEO Nick Woodman would stand on a table in the company booth, and shout and scream and give away t-shirts and other swag, and finally give away a few new cameras. His enthusiasm, hype and excitement simply could not be ignored if you were within hearing distance. To win, you had to sign up on one of their kiosks and opt in to an email list – and you had to be there to win when they gave away the goodies. They stilluse thesame approach (without Nick, though); I saw them do the same thing at NAB Show earlier this month.

GoPro’s Nick Woodman spreading an idea at Outdoor Retailer in 2009

At the time, the idea of a standalone “action camera” was new. By using tradeshows as a marketing platform, or marketing medium, GoPro was able to spread the idea of the standalone cameras right when the competition was the new smartphone, and older digital cameras. But the GoPro could be attached to your helmet, your torso or even to a skateboard or surfboard or whatever – and with the wide-angle lens, it captured exciting and dynamic footage. The idea was so new and unusual, it created a new genre of cameras, which have been replicated by other companies in an effort to compete.

If the product or service brings with it such a forceful idea, it can definitely spread like a virus. And tradeshows can be used effectively to help launch the idea into the wider world.

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Expo West ’19 Diary: First Full Exhibiting Day

I shouldn’t be surprised, but every year when the full exhibit floors are open, I am still a bit astonished at how many people are walking the floors. With over 80,000 attendees, Natural Products Expo West is a huge show. Not as big as the Consumer Electronics Show, but still mighty big.

So I spent the day walking, walking, walking and then walking some more. 19,221 steps according to my Fitbit! One major goal of the day was to make sure all of our clients were taken care of, so that meant making a stop at Target for requested supplies from a couple of them. Later in the day another client asked if I could track down a stapler, so after a few back-and-forth texts, another client was willing to lend their. I love when everybody helps out!

The second major goal was to drop by and say hello to exhibitors that I’ve met previously. As you may know, I’ve published two books on tradeshow marketing (here and here), and they are great calling introductory cards to start a brief conversation. Having been attending the show for almost two decades, lots of them recall me from previous years, so it’s good to reconnect, if only briefly. My main question to them is “how is the show going this year for you?” and 95% are very positive. One person said they weren’t coming back next year – they are just not getting the audience they want. The complaint is that the attendees in their booth were either other exhibitors or brokers and not retailers, which is what they want. I understand that not everyone has a great experience. I checked my list from last year and found that about a third of them are not here this year. From my perspective (anecdotal, not backed up by any data), there is a lot of turnover. But companies are still chomping at the bit to get into the show.

Since I’m Oregon-based, I lean towards finding Oregon or Northwest exhibitors. Many of them see me year after year, so even though we may never do business, it’s always good to make a brief reconnection. No selling, no pitching, not even a hint. Conversations usually revolve around (again) how the show is for them, and how their business is doing. So many businesses that I speak with are growing quickly, expanding product lines, and occasionally expanding their exhibit space. So I know that the industry as a whole is doing very well.

Trends:

Over the years it’s been interesting to see some of the things that pop out and get your attention. A couple of years ago I couldn’t turn more than 90 degrees without seeing another bone broth product! This year, I see a lot of CBD-related products. I also see a lot of oat milk and keto-related products as well.

I’ve probably made this observation before, but it’s hard to walk the show floor without eating a fair amount of food. Most exhibitors offer samples, and many are literally pushing them on you. A bite here and a bit there, and after a couple of hours, you’ve had the equivalent of a meal. And it’s all (well, almost all) really good!

Let’s close out today’s diary with a few photos of some of the exhibits at the show. Backlit fabric graphics are still popular, as are eye-catching one-of-a-kind items in booths. Exhibit designers never cease to impress me with ways to capture eyeballs, communication messages in a 3D format and attention to detail.

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TradeshowGuy Exhibits: Planning Notes for Cannabis Collaborative Conference

cannabis collaborative conference

Since we made the decision to exhibit at a regional cannabis show in January, the Portland Cannabis Collaborative Conference at the Portland Expo Center, we’ve been tossing around a lot of ideas on how to approach it. Thought it might be fun to share some notes about what is crossing our minds regarding the show.

First, the Cannabis Collaborative Conference is a relatively small gathering. Around 125 – 130 exhibitors will set up shop for a few days, January 22 – 24, 2019. There will be two days of conferences, breakfasts, lunches and networking. And of course, exhibiting! In discussions with Mary Lou Burton, the organizer, it was apparent that a number of companies that are not directly involved in the cannabis industry exhibit at the show. There are companies involved in banking, insurance, legal, energy reduction, marketing and more. Given that the show is pretty popular, and the industry is growing, we felt it was a good fit to invest in exhibiting at the show as a potential supporting marketing partner of companies in the cannabis industry that do tradeshows.

Now that the decision has been made, what to do?

As any tradeshow planner knows, it all revolves around budget. From booth space, to travel, from the exhibit itself to giveaways and more, budgets must be decided upon and hopefully adhered to.

At first blush, our budget for the show will be modest. Here are some thoughts on what we might do for our 10×10 space – #420. Yes, we’re in #420.

Exhibit: Lots of things to consider. After all, we have access to a lot of styles of exhibits, from pop-up graphic back walls that set up in seconds, to aluminum extrusion framed light boxes, to typical  10×10 exhibits (rental and purchase) to banner stands and more. The first thing that comes to mind is to do a big back drop (maybe even a light box with fabric graphic) with a large striking image, company name, maybe a few bullet points. I’ll work with a professional designer for this – I ain’t a designer.

Giveaways: of course, I have a couple of books that I’ll either giveaway or sell on the cheap. The organizers have said I can sell the books at my booth (some shows direct sales are not allowed, so I checked). We might also come up with some branded swag. If we can find an item that really makes sense for the show that is a good giveaway, we may do that.

cannabis collaborative conference

PreShow Marketing: the organizers gave me a list of some 2500 people that attended the last show. While it might be helpful to reach out to them via email, our interest is more in the exhibitors – they’re our target market. We might do a couple of email blasts to the group to let them know we’re there and what we do. Email is cheap. Direct mail is probably not a great option, mainly due to the cost. But, even if the attendees aren’t exhibitors, many of them are retail shop owners and are potential customers for other items we can supply. Since I’m active on social media – and especially with the booth number 420 – you can expect that we’ll have a lot of fun both before and during the show promoting both the show and our booth space.

During the show: one thought is to make the rounds at the other exhibits at the very outset of the show opening and invite them to come to booth 420 to pick up a free copy of my book while they last. Once they’re there, we’d be ready to capture their information for follow up. And I think it’s always a good idea to have some sort of thing to do – some interactive element – which bears more thought.

At this writing the show is still 182 days away – half a year. And most of these thoughts and notes on what we’ll do is just that – incomplete ideas. Still, I always tell clients that when a show is a half a year away, THAT is the time to be slowly creating the ideas, talking with team members and getting the juices flowing so that as time goes by they will coalesce and become more concrete until they become a plan that can be executed.

Stay tuned! And if you’re planning to be in Portland in mid-January of next year, put this show on your calendar and come see us!

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TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee, April 2, 2018: Briana Belden

Briana Belden, Brand Manager of Wedderspoon Manuka Honey, joins the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee for a discussion about how they approach tradeshow marketing: preshow outreach, what happens during the show, follow up, branding and more:

And this week’s ONE GOOD THING: SPRING!

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TradeshowGuy Exhibits at Expo West

Fifteen years ago, my very first client, Kettle Foods, made an appearance at Natural Products Expo West with a custom 20×20 exhibit. Since then, I’ve been back every year, many times with new clients, and updated exhibits with current clients. Kettle Foods, by the way, has been sold at least three times since the old days and the brand is now owned and managed by Snyder’s-Lance.

A few years after that, I worked with Bob’s Red Mill to debut a new 20×20 island. Since then, we’ve created a new 30×30 exhibit, which has since increased to a 30×40. The Bob’s Red Mill marketing team is on top of updates every year with new graphics to promote new products.

This year we saw expanded and/or upgraded versions of current clients. Schmidt’s Naturals of Portland (recently acquired by Unilever), kept the same size, but added some custom product display units, and washed away the previous gray-ish look and brought forward their new array of stunning colors.

Schmidt's Naturals

Dave’s Killer Bread/Alpine Valley increased the size of their exhibit from 10×30 to 10×40, adding new backlit graphics and a new custom greeting counter with LED-highlights.

Dave's Killer Bread at Expo West

Wedderspoon Manuka Honey increased the size of their exhibit from 10×20 to 10×30, adding in new fabric graphics to their wooden display shelving units. We also fabricated a new hexagon shaped, LED highlighted, charging table (reportedly it was loved by visitors as they sat and talked business). A new 60″ monitor capped it off.

Wedderspoon Manuka Honey at Expo West

 


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How to Build a Tradeshow-Specific Landing Page

Over the years I’ve suggested that companies create a tradeshow-specific landing page for each appearance they make at a show. But frankly, I don’t see too many of them.

But I recently ran across a tradeshow-specific landing page from Digimarc that caught my eye. Digimarc is a Portland-based company that helps clientele with product identification, labels, barcodes and the like.

Digimarc has a tradeshow-specific landing page for their upcoming appearance at NRF 2018 at the Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center.

Let’s take a look at their landing page and see what they are doing right.

In the first screenshot, Digimarc starts off by everyone that they’re going to be at the NRF 2018. They mention their booth number and invite visitors to check out their store.

tradeshow-specific landing page

Next shot: you’re invited to dig a little deeper to learn about increasing operational efficiencies and more, and again mentioning the booth number. Right below that are a pair of buttons inviting you to schedule a visit with them at their booth, and offering an NRF Registration and Discount Code, reinforcing the notion that not only do they want to you stop by their booth, they want to make it easy:

tradeshow-specific landing page

In the third screenshot, Digimarc offers a chance to learn even more specific knowledge, with buttons to get better labels, implement easy checkout and engage consumers now.

tradeshow-specific landing page

Finally, there is an offer to get a personalized language booth tour – when you click through, the options are to get a tour in Japanese or German – making it easier for those international visitors to make a connection with the company. Then there’s a Lyft voucher and (still to come) an NRF Survival Guide. It’s all capped off with an invitation to follow them on social media to continue the show connection.

tradeshow-specific landing page

Everything is clearly marked, easily understood and very specific. The only quibble I have is that the date and location of the show (NYC in January) are not on the page. But you might argue that anyone going to the show already knows that information, and this tradeshow-specific landing page from Digimarc is being shared with people who are already aware.

In any event, Digimarc did a great job with this.

My question is: why aren’t you doing this with your upcoming tradeshow appearance?

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Schmidt’s Naturals Up for Exhibitor Portable/Modular Award

A year ago, our new client Schmidt’s Naturals debuted a new custom 10×20 at the Natural Products Expo West. It was a custom exhibit designed by Classic Exhibits‘ designer Kim DiStefano. The design was submitted to Exhibitor Magazine’s annual Portable/Modular Awards, which honor design excellence in portable, modular and system exhibits. Here’s what it looked like on the floor of Expo West:

Exhibitor Portable Modular Award Entrant

A couple of years ago, one of our clients, SoYoung, was a winner in the competition. We’re glad that Schmidt’s Naturals got the nomination and we wish them the best when the winners are announced in late winter at ExhibitorLIVE!

We’d like to invite you to see all of the entrants in the Exhibitor Portable/Modular Awards take a look here and vote your favorite. And remember, you can vote once per day until the competition closes.

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SIA Snow Show From an Exhibitor’s Viewpoint

I’ve never attended the SIA Snow Show but I think I should someday, for two reasons. Number One: I’m a ski bum. Number Two: uh, see reason number one. Oh, and that’s right – I’m TradeshowGuy – I do tradeshows.

SIA SNOW SHOW

SIA – Snowsports Industries America – holds the annual SIA Snow Show in January in Denver, Colorado, home of some of the greatest skiing in America. Of course. With close to 20,000 attendees, it’s the industry’s largest global annual B2B gathering. It’s a smaller and more narrowly focused show than Outdoor Retailer, but in speaking to SIA Snow Show exhibitors, I gathered that many of them also exhibit or attend Outdoor Retailer.

Having not attended the snow show, I thought it might be illuminating to ring up some of the exhibitors at the show and debrief them on how the show went for them. Here’s what I came up with over the past several weeks.

Overall, how did the show rate? Most gave it very high marks.

“If it wasn’t a ten, it was a high nine,” said Ashley McGarvey of Meier Skis, who praised the show as bringing in lots of industry people. In spite of the challenges of being a smaller company, she felt the show was a very worthwhile marketing effort. According to SIA Snow Show information, over 96% of the supplier market share for ski, snowboard, AT, backcountry, cross country, snowshoe and winter apparel is there.

A big challenge that most small exhibitors faced, which is common throughout the industry and not just for the SIA Snow Show, is the high cost of transporting big booths and setting up the exhibits. This also resonated with the small core of Meier Skis team.

But all of the exhibitors I spoke with said they made great connections with retailers and distributors that made the show a ‘must.’

Whit Boucher of Strafe Outerwear agreed with Ashley, saying “It was a nine and a half, definitely,” saying that their 20×40 booth had a lot of traffic for the first three days, and saw a typical drop-off on day four. He speculated that it might be nice to drop the last day so they can show up then and break down the booth.

SIA SNOW SHOW

All exhibitors I spoke with felt the show opened doors to markets that they might not have normally had access to.

What challenges did they face? Besides the cost of exhibiting, smaller companies felt understaffed at times. Others felt that their exhibit wasn’t large enough to hold the people and products all at once.

One exhibitor, who preferred to remain nameless, felt the show was slipping in the past few years and felt that attendance had dropped “20 – 25%” in the past several years, and that the organizers had let in companies that had little to nothing to do with the core audience of snow sports: make-up companies, food companies and more. As a result, he said their company would be down-sizing next year. But still, he ranked the show as an “8 on a scale of 1-10 for what we need it to do.” He did express fear that the show would be sold or would merge into another show.

Erik Leines, CEO of Celtek has a personal mantra regarding tradeshows is “I’ve never met a tradeshow I didn’t like.” Why? “I’ve literally never done a tradeshow where I walked out and thought it wasn’t worth the money. For anyone doing a show, that’s the way to treat it. We have our own secret sauce on how to do it,” he added, as they always look at ways to attract attention and promote their products. Erik rated the show as “very high” as a marketing tool for their company.

Anything you’d change in your approach to exhibiting, or anything that is a challenge? Answers to this question ranged from “we need a bigger booth next year” to “we need more people in our booth” to “frustration and the cost of dealing with show services – how can it cost $1200 for three guys and a forklift to hang a sign in just four minutes?”

Bottom Line: a mixed bag. Even though most exhibitors I spoke with gave the show high marks, there was some comments that indicated that the show could be better and in fact might be slipping in some cases. Being such a narrowly focused show doesn’t necessarily give it strength, although it tends to draw the core audience that is needed for success. From all appearances, it is still a successful show, and yes, I’d like to get there and try out some new skis!


Thanks to Celtek, Meier Skis, Strafe Outerwear, POW Gloves, SKEA, 4F, Icelantic Skis, Red Feather and a few others that chimed in with comments on and off the record.

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Meduri Farms Exhibit Project

Meduri Farms 20x20 custom exhibit, seen at IFT, Chicago, July 2016
Meduri Farms 20×20 custom exhibit, seen at IFT, Chicago, July 2016

You never know exactly how new clients will find you. It could be from an introduction at a tradeshow. It might be from someone hearing a webinar that impressed them enough to make a call. It might be from an internet search or a referral. The Meduri Farms exhibit project came about thanks to an online search.

One of our most recent clients, Meduri Farms of Dallas, Oregon, found TradeshowGuy Exhibits through a Google search. Through a few months of back and forth to answer questions, the issuing of a Request for Proposals including a design from scratch, we ended up getting the project. It was awarded in March after a competition of four or five exhibit firms, and kicked off in April, finally making it’s debut in July at the Institute of Food Technologists show in Chicago at McCormick Place.

Design was by Greg Garrett Designs. Fabrication by Classic Exhibits. The 20×20 structure was a combination of original design (the tower/alcove unit and product display unit) and rental (counters). The top section of the tower features SEG fabric images up to about a 15′ height which grabs eyeballs from a distance.

The 15′ tower is 9′ x 9′ with a meeting space in the bottom. Two sides are taken up by alcoves that display products and offer plenty of storage room. The roughly 10′ counters give more product display area and more storage for the oodles of samples handed out during the show.

According to Sara Lotten, Sales & Customer Service for Meduri Farms, management loved the booth and the results it brought (“that’s beautiful!” was the comment passed along as the president first laid eyes on the booth at the show). Meduri Farms got a great number of positive comments about the booth. Comments are great, but results are more impressive.

“We got as many leads the first day with the new booth as we did all of last year’s show. We ended up with three times as many leads for the show as last year,” said Lotten.

Meduri Farms, Inc., founded in 1984 is a premier supplier of specialty dried fruits to food manufacturers around the world.

Check out our Meduri Farms photo gallery here.

Find out more about how you can get a new tradeshow booth here.

 

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